By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Every team in every sport at some point has to deal with a bad call that doesn’t go their way. Generally, that team has to shake off the injustice — whether it’s real or perceived — and continue to work toward winning the game at hand.
Some teams, though, never get that chance, as the officiating error takes place on the play that ends the game.
The St. Louis Blues are one of those teams.
Tied in a 1-1 conference final series with the San Jose Sharks, the Blues found themselves in overtime of Game 3, after allowing a tying goal late in regulation. The winner of this game would, of course, own a 2-1 series lead. Considering the winner of Game 3’s in series that are tied 1-1 go on to win the series 67.3 percent of the time, there was quite a bit riding on this game.
Yet despite the stakes, not a single one of the four on-ice officials managed to see the most obvious of obvious hand passes, when Timo Meier swatted a puck out of mid-air in the St. Louis end of the ice. His clear and obvious hand pass sent the puck to Gustav Nyquist, who then passed over to Erik Karlsson, who scored the game-winning goal.
Every single Blues player on the ice knew immediately that the goal should not have counted, because, again, the hand pass was clear as day. As soon as the puck hit Nyquist’s blade, the play should have been whistled dead. Somehow, though, play continued, and the Sharks capitalized within a second.
This being the year 2019, the world has access to an immense library of videos. That was certainly the case in St. Louis, as every single replay showed Meier swinging his hand and sending the puck over to Parayko.
Alas, the NHL rules being what they are, such a play is not subject to review. So referees Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke huddled up with linesemen Jonny Murray and Matt MacPherson, and the four men in stripes presumably all asked one another if anyone had seen the most obvious of hand passes involving the player nearest the puck in overtime of a Western Conference Final game. It would seem as though each individual official answered with a negative, as after a minute or two, the crew skated to the corner of the rink to make their way to their locker room. The meeting lasted all of 90 seconds.
It did not appear as if any of the officials felt compelled to explain the situation to the Blues or the irate home crowd, as their mission instead appeared to be simply to get out of Dodge. It was only after Blues players followed the officials to the corner that the officials felt compelled to explain the situation to the aggrieved party. Even then, it was only the linesman Murray who took the time to talk to goaltender Jordan Binnington; the two refs were busy trying to make sure they had a path off the ice.
The NHL did not appear eager to explain the situation, either. Typically after goal reviews and plays of that nature, the NHL’s public relations Twitter account will at the very least share an explanation. Even though those explanations are almost always just a restatement of what happened instead of an actual explanation of the reasoning behind a call, they serve to at least show that the league is recognizing a controversial situation.
That tweet didn’t come on Wednesday night. The reasoning there would be that the play was not reviewed, because such plays are not subject to review — for reasons unknown. In a world where the Colorado Avalanche can lose a goal because of grainy, zoomed-in footage of a skate blade being offside, and in a world where there’s no time limits on offside reviews, and in a world where the situation room can examine near-goals for as long as it deems necessary, the NHL is not allowed to spend 3 seconds watching a replay that would negate a game-winning goal that should not have counted.
And on NHL.com on Thursday morning, you’d really have to work in order to find mention of the controversial game-winning goal. The top story on the website only mentions that Karlsson scored the game-winner, with included links to a story about Joe Thornton and Karlsson, and another link to general Blues-Sharks coverage. The headlines section of the website didn’t mention the controversial ending, and even the blurb under the game summary failed to mention the hand pass.
And in what is a much more egregious offense, the NHL edited out any and all commentary regarding the hand pass when posting a video clip of the game-winning goal to Twitter:
That’s just absolutely stunning. It’s a clear attempt by the league to try to rewrite history.
It appears as though rather than address a fault, the league would prefer to remain as quiet as possible, hoping the storm will pass. (The league must simply be following The Roger Goodell Plan, which was executed masterfully after a season-altering missed call in the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans this past January.)
The internet being what it is, some hockey fans broke down frame-by-frame examinations that perhaps show either Meier either directing the puck with his stick after the hand pass or the puck glancing off the leg of Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Some have suggested that Meier completely whiffed on the hand pass attempt, and that the puck merely caught a lucky bounce when redirecting toward the front of the net.
That’s all a little much. A puck was in the air, a player batted at it, the puck then was sent to an advantageous spot on the ice, where a teammate was first to touch it before making a quick pass for the game-winning goal to be scored. It should not have counted.
The NHL rulebook states: “A player shall be permitted to stop or ‘bat’ a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the on-ice officials, he has directed the puck to a teammate, or has allowed his team to gain an advantage, and subsequently possession and control of the puck is obtained by a player of the offending team, either directly or deflected off any player or official.”
The last part of that rule would negate any potential contact with a defenseman’s leg, as a deflection wouldn’t overrule the hand pass. And the part about allowing a team “to gain an advantage” as a result of a hand pass would seemingly make this case fairly cut and dry. (There’s also no chance that the on-ice officials were able to perceive a potential glancing touch of the puck on Meier’s stick, as slow-motion, high-definition replays can’t even confirm if that happened.)
Blues head coach Craig Berube was steaming mad when he sat for his postgame press conference. He said he received no explanation from the officials or the league, before being asked if he believed it was a hand pass.
“Well what do you guys think?” Berube replied. “K, then don’t ask me. There’s no reason to ask me. … Nothing. I have nothing to say about it.”
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was likewise not interested in commenting on officiating, albeit for different reasons.
“Yeah, you know, quick play. Again, I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” DeBoer said. “We found a way to win a game. … It was a game of momentum swings, and those quick little plays happen all over the ice — some get called, some get missed. We found a way to win.”
For the Sharks, it’s yet another advantageous break this postseason. They were given a five-minute power play in Game 7 against the Golden Knights, despite no real penalty being committed. They were also the beneficiary of that aforementioned Colorado goal that came off the board in Game 7 of the second round.
But the Sharks haven’t been the only team involved in controversial decisions. It was the Boston Bruins who found themselves victimized by four officials failing to see a puck leaving the rink and hitting the protective netting above the boards in Columbus, leading directly to a Blue Jackets goal in Game 4 of the second round. That goal cut a 2-1 Bruins lead in half, but with more than 40 minutes left in the game, it did not ultimately decide anything. The Bruins won 4-1.
But after that game, Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask offered some commentary that now looks rather prescient.
“In this day and age I think it’s crazy that, you know, if the refs don’t see it, why the league can’t call … I mean, they’re watching the game, right?” Rask said on May 2. “I mean, what if that’s in overtime, you know? It didn’t cost us, but I think it’s just funny that they can look at a lot of other goals going back and calling back, so why not that?”
What if it’s in overtime?
Rask knew that such a moment would be difficult to swallow if it decided a game. The Blues learned that the hard way on Wednesday night.